One of the reasons we don’t see more world changing activity is because when many people step out to change their world and face the first few problems, they quit. The reason we can’t point to more world changing leaders is that too many of us give up at the first obstacle. Nothing changes without some hard work, and God’s mission and plan will always face opposition. If we are going to change our world we have to learn how to defeat discouragement,and overcome opposition. Today we want to learn how to do this from Nehemiah – an ordinary guy who overcame opposition and changed his world.
Nehemiah was an ordinary man who worked for King Artaxerxes in Persia. He was 1,000 miles away from his homeland of Israel, and while he had never actually been to Jerusalem, he heard that much of the city still lay in ruins. 140 years after the city had been defeated, the walls of the city, which would have provided protection and a sense of identity for the people of God, had not yet been rebuilt. Nehemiah was troubled by this and wanted to do something to change the situation, so he prayed, and he planned, and set to work on accomplishing the vision God gave him. He started to rebuild the walls.
Over the past few weeks we have learned that to be the kind of leader who can change the world we have to first allow our hearts to be broken by what breaks the heart of God. We have to sit down and cry. We have to be moved by some problem that needs to be set right. We then need to kneel down to pray, and pray often, before we stand up to act.
Leading change then calls for us to define our mission clearly, plan carefully and inspire people passionately. Nehemiah did all of this and work began on the walls of Jerusalem, and it moved forward quickly. With all the ways Nehemiah was able to show people that God was a part of this work, we might think that it was going to be smooth sailing all the way, but it wasn’t. Nehemiah faced opposition. He had to overcome discouragement, and it is from Nehemiah that we learn this profound truth:
We don’t face opposition because we are doing something wrong. We face opposition because we are doing something right.
Too many people give up at the first sign of trouble because they think that the obstacle they face is a sign that God is against them. We give in when we get discouraged because we think that we somehow heard God wrong, or that God is not with us in this, but many times this is simply not true. Often the discouragement and opposition comes because we are doing exactly what God wants, but the enemy does not.
There is a very real enemy that works against the will of God. The Bible refers to this enemy as satan- which means opponent or accuser. Satan is the one who accuses us of not being able to do what God has called us to do. Satan often places obstacles in our path to keep us from accomplishing those things that God wants for us and for our world. To think that God’s purpose and plan will never experience any obstacles, and that if God calls us to change our world, we will be able to do it without any problems at all is not only foolish, we could call it fake news because it ignores the entire story of God that we find in the Bible
God called Abraham and said he was going to make him into a great nation, but he had to overcome famine and delays and disappointments along the way. God called Moses to lead his people into the Promised Land and then faced opposition from Pharaoh, as well as discouragement from his own people. David was called to be the King of Israel but then faced opposition and discouragement from his enemies and his own family. Jesus was the son of God who came to usher in the kingdom of God and he faced opposition, problems, discouragement, and persecution.
The people God called to change the world faced opposition and discouragement so if we want to step out and follow the dream God has for us, if we want to change our world, we have to be ready to face obstacles and problems. If God has called us to step out for some great purpose, then the enemy will be right there trying to hold us back, and the enemy does this from both the inside and the outside. Let’s look at Nehemiah 4:1-3.
Here we see Nehemiah discouraged from the outside. Sanballat and Tobias were two leaders from the region who didn’t want to see the walls of Jerusalem rebuilt, and they didn’t want Nehemiah to develop as a strong leader in Jerusalem. Nehemiah’s presence, and his success in building the wall, threatened their position and power, so they discourage Nehemiah and the people by ridiculing the work they were doing. They attacked them from the outside and anytime we step out to do something new and find some success, we will find discouragement and problems coming at us from the outside. The first way we experience outside opposition is through obstacles.
Just as we begin to do some new work, or make plans to initiate a new pathway in life, our schedule changes at work, or our children’s schedules change in sports and school and the time we thought we had we no longer have. Just when we begin to move forward with a plan, we run into a health issue that stop us in our tracks and set us back. There is the sudden financial set back that gets us thinking maybe we can’t make this change or move forward in a new way. Obstacles are always there, let’s face it, they are part of life, in many ways it they are life itself, but those obstacles are NOT always the work of God telling us to give up.
Too often we see obstacles as God telling us to give up our dreams, or we see problems as God’s way of telling us to give up our plans. The problems and setbacks we face in life are not always the work of God, or even Satan, so we have to be willing to face them head on with faith and perseverance. When we face obstacles and problems coming at us from the outside, what we need to do is pray.
When Nehemiah and the people were ridiculed, he prayed. When obstacles were thrown their way, he prayed. It is prayer that helps us define our situation and gives God the opportunity to lead us deeper into his purpose and plan, or change that plan all together. Prayer emerges again and again as the foundation of how we become people who change our world. So we need to pray. When obstacles come we need to pray.
The other way we get discouraged from the outside is through criticism. Sanballat and Tobias’ words were critical of Nehemiah, the people’s plan, and their work. They made fun of everything they were doing and how they were doing it, and they tried to get them to give up the work. Criticism also has the potential to destroy our work. If we listen to it, and believe it, criticism has the potential to stop the life changing, world changing work of God.
In case you haven’t experienced it yet, get ready, because criticism comes with just about every decision we make, big or small. Critical words are all around us, and in a day when criticism can be leveled anonymously and online, our critical culture is growing. When we don’t have to face someone to criticize their beliefs, plans, or actions, when we can do it anonymously from afar, it easier to hurl insults and put down people’s plans.
Critics are all around us to say that our not only are our ideas foolish but we are foolish for having them. Critics tells us that our ideas are too radical or not radical enough. They say our plans won’t change anything, won’t be supported, and won’t succeed. Critics might also tell us the idea is great but that we aren’t capable of leading it, or don’t have what it takes to see it through. Critics can come from those closest to us, to those far from us, those we know and those we don’t know. Critics appear anytime there is a world changing idea, which means we need to be prepared for it and know how to fight it.
In the face of any criticism, there are two things we need to do: Pray and Get Back To Work. That’s what Nehemiah did. He prayed and then he got back to work. Nehemiah 4:9. If we pray, God will help us overcome the obstacles and give direction to our plans. When we get back to work, we are allowing God to shape His vision and direct His mission. So in the face of criticism, and obstacles, we need to pray and get back to work. We begin to defeat discouragement when we pray and get back to work.
Not only do we face discouragement and opposition from the outside, but we also face it from the inside, look at Nehemiah 4:10.
Discouragement from the inside comes when we, and those who work with us, feel tired and insecure. Let me clue you in to something important, all leaders get tired and feel insecure. All leaders question whether or not they have what it takes to make it through. All leaders have moments when they simply sit down and cry. We all have those dark nights of the soul where we question our ability, our calling, the work we have already done, and the work we still have left to do. Just as criticism will come, so will getting tired, feeling insecure, and doubting the plans we have made. It happens to us all.
When I was in seminary I was struggling to define God’s calling in my life. I knew God wanted me to be involved in mission and ministry, but I couldn’t get a clear handle on what that looked like. No one seemed to be able to help me figure it out, and I was floundering along with doubts, fears, and insecurities. Had God really called me?
During my second year of classes, I was in an internship at a church and I had the opportunity to preach. I will never forget that day. In my sermon I was reflecting on what it was that we were begging from Jesus. Were we begging to follow him, or were we begging Jesus to leave us alone. One way leads to life, the other to death. As I was talking about our need to follow Jesus in order to find the fullness of life there was a voice that rang it out in my head that said, who are you to tell these people how to live their lives? Who are you to tell people they need to believe in or trust Jesus?
This was an internal voice of discouragement. It was playing on my fears and insecurities. It’s what all leaders hear and feel at times. Who are you to be leading this venture, this mission, this work? But immediately after that voice rang out in my mind another voice spoke out that said, but there is nothing I believe more. There is no other message worth preaching. There is no other truth more profound and life changing. It’s this or nothing. I am thankful for the clarity of that voice because it helped me defeat discouragement and it shaped God’s plan and purpose for my life.
I have felt defeated and discouraged many times since that day, and when I do, I try and listen to that voice of God. When I question what I’m doing and why I’m doing it, I am reminded that there is nothing else I believe in more passionately and there is no other truth worth proclaiming than the message of Jesus. There is life in no other name. There is truth, and peace, and power in no other way than the way of Jesus. When inside voices try to defeat me I remember that voice of God.
When internal voices tried to defeat and discourage Nehemiah and the people, they did the same thing. They remembered the Lord. Nehemiah 4:14a - Remember the Lord who is great and awesome.
What is it that we need to remember about God when we hear that inside voice tell us to give in or give up? If God is for us then who can be against us… Romans 8:35-39 I can do everything through Christ who gives me strength. Philippians 4:13 I will be with you always, even to the very end of the age. Matthew 28:20 Because of the Lord’s great love, we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning, great is your faithfulness. Lamentations 3:22-23
These are the voices we need to hear when we get discouraged. This is the messages we need to remember when criticism comes our way. We need to remember the Lord, who helped his people overcome great obstacles in the past, who helped Jesus overcome criticism and persecution, and who defeated the greatest obstacles we know – sin and death. If God can raise Jesus from the dead, and if God can forgive our sin, then God can do anything, and we can keep moving forward.
Nehemiah says we need to remember the Lord and then we need to keep fighting for the cause. Nehemiah 4:14b – fight for your brothers, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes. We pray and we get back to work. We remember the Lord and we keep fighting for the cause. If God wants to refine our work, redefine our mission, or even take us in a new direction, God will do that as we keep on working. God can’t steer a parked car but he can guide a moving car so we need to keep on fighting, not just for ourselves, but for the cause.
If God has laid a burden on your heart and you are defining a plan and getting ready to step out to act, know that obstacles will come and criticism will be part of the journey. In those difficult moments, pray, remember the Lord, and then keep fighting. Pray and get back to work. No world changing action comes easy. Every plan of God finds opposition from satan – the accuser – so don’t be surprised when it comes. Don’t give up hope or give in to fear. Instead remember the Lord who fights for us, and keep on fighting for the cause and the dream and the plan God has given.
Change Your World – Defeating Discouragement
We don’t face opposition because we are doing something W_______________.
We face opposition because we are doing something
1. Outside Discouragement (Nehemiah 4:1-9)
- Obstacles: What obstacles are you facing today?
○ How are these holding you back from what God wants you to do? ○ Which obstacles might be God telling you to go in a different direction? ○ Ask God to guide you to overcome obstacles.
- Criticism: What criticism are you facing today?
○ Is the criticism justified? Can you learn from it? ○ If the criticism is false and unjustified, let it go. 2. Inside Discouragement (Nehemiah 4:10-12)
- Tired: Where are you feeling tired in your life and faith? Ask God for rest and strength.
- Insecure: Where is doubt and fear causing you to pull back in the plans God has for you? Ask God for courage and faith to see you through.
3. Defeating Discouragement (Nehemiah 4:14)
- Remember the Lord:
○ Identify a time in your life when God provided for you. ○ Read Romans 8:31-39. Philippians 4:13, Matthew 28:20, Lamentations 3:23-24
- Fight for the Cause: Keep moving forward in the cause God has laid on your heart. Don’t give up.